Worship paves a way

by Paul Hartog, Director House of Prayer Hamburg 

When I boarded a plane in Houston, Texas in 2012 with my Bible school on the way to Trinidad & Tobago, full of fire and vigor, I could not have guessed what would happen to me. I asked Jesus to seat me next to someone who did not yet know Him. So far on the trip, I had only struck up conversations with people who already knew Him. Now, I wanted more.  

So it happened that there were two atheists sitting next to me. The two men literally took my whole faith apart and held facts against me why my faith could not be true. When I finally got off the train in Tobago, I didn’t know what to believe anymore. For a week I would be here, having to go door-to-door preaching the gospel, a message I no longer knew was the truth. 

We were to start the day with an hour of time with God in the morning. But since I doubted everything, the Bible was nothing more than a book to me at that moment. If God does not exist, to whom do I pray? I listened to all the sermons, but even they just bounced off me. On the third or fourth day of my wrestling, God penetrated my confused and closed heart with a simple question: “What do you know about me beyond any doubt?” My heart answered in a way that surprised myself, “That praise and worship makes a difference.” 

I thought about the last few days and noticed how whenever I had done worship, my heart became calmer and the questions that plagued me were pushed aside. I didn’t know the power of worship at that point. I just knew that it made a difference – in me and in others as well.  

“We were made for worship” is a statement I’m sure we’ve all heard in this way or something similar many times. Jesus himself says that God desires sincere and genuine worship from us (John 4:23). But what is worship anyway? Often the term is associated with good music, lighting and usually accompanied by a deep touch and a good mood. And yes, I believe worship can take place in such moments. But the meaning of worship goes much deeper. 

In the Old Testament, God asks Abraham to sacrifice his beloved son. The one through whom God’s promises were to come true. Abraham goes off in faith and trust, and when they almost arrive at the place of sacrifice, he says to his servants, “You stay here with the donkey. But I and the boy will go there and worship and return to you.” (Genesis 22:1-5). Here we find a confused Abraham who nevertheless goes forward in faith. Inwardly he was most likely rather devastated, and yet worship was possible. 

The Greek word for worship is proskyneo (e.g. Mat. 4:8). It means to kiss someone’s hand; to kneel down as a sign of reverence and respect before a superior person, to pay homage to someone. In the biblical sense, worship is a conscious decision to value God, to acknowledge His greatness. Worship is the conscious and obedient surrender to God. Abraham gave himself completely to him by being willing to sacrifice his son. 

In John 4, Jesus talks about worship. Here we find another piece of the puzzle to understanding what worship is and, more importantly, what true worship looks like. “But the hour is coming, and now is, when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father also seeks such as these as his worshipers.” (John 4:23). 

What is meant here by worshiping in spirit? 

At our new birth in Christ, our spirit was filled with the existence and vitality of the Holy Spirit (cf. Rom. 8:16; Gal. 4:6-7). True worship comes only from the spirit that has become alive and sensitive through the awakening of the Spirit of God. This is in contrast to worship from forms, ceremonies and religiosity.  

In the Greek sense, truth is that which is not hidden. In other words, truth is the presentation of things as they really are. When Jesus speaks of worshipping in truth, truth focuses on his person and his work. That is, on the one who is truth itself (John 14:6). But also on the saving message for us, which is the word of truth, the gospel (Col. 1,5). It is this word of truth by which we are born again (Jam. 1,18). And also the word of truth (2Ti 2:15) with which Christians go into the world to proclaim Jesus, the truth in person. 

Worship in spirit and truth always leads us into a deeper knowledge of the person of Jesus Christ. Worship, then, is not something we do primarily in church on Sunday. Rather, worship is something that can and should permeate our whole lives. In the Old Testament, worship was relegated to specific times and places. For us who live under the new covenant, it is no longer limited, for we have been joined to Christ through faith and have become the temple of God. The Holy Spirit dwells in us and makes us the place of His presence both individually and collectively (1Co 3:16-17; 6:19; Eph 2:22). 

I see difference between worship and praise. In worship, we become aware of who God is. And this awareness leads us into obedient surrender to God into a conscious decision to value and honor God.  In praise, on the other hand, we thank Him for all that He has already done.  There are many different ways we can worship and praise God. These include music, dance, serving others, and more. These expressions are not insignificant, but they are not the essence. Worship is an attitude of the heart. 

Back to my story: After the question God asked me, I decided to just do what my heart knew. I would let God work on me through my worship. So I went outside and sang praise songs to the Lord with all my heart. And bit by bit, I noticed my heart opening to His love, His grace, His goodness. I looked at God and the view of him filled me anew. I really got to know him in the encounter and gave myself to him. No longer was he just a theory. 

In worship we focus on the one to whom we owe everything and who has the greatest power, and that changes us. In Psalm 103, we read how David urges his soul to praise the Lord. We may do the same. No matter how we are doing. And in worshiping, our hearts will become full. By looking to Him, we will come to know our Father in heaven more deeply, which simply feeds our worship further. 

It is not without reason that the four, eye-covered beings in Revelation, are continuously praising. They worship the Lord for who He is. In worship, they see even more of who He is and praise Him for this new knowledge, and the spiral continues (Rev. 4). 

True worship directs our gaze away from us, away from the problems of the world to HIM. Worship paves a way. 

Paul Hartog has been leading the Hamburg House of Prayer since September 2022. He is passionate about worship, loves fellowship with deep sharing, wine and good food. Paul has a special heart for the bride of Jesus and desires to see the church in Hamburg awakened and unfolded to its full potential. He lives together with his wife Liesa in the district of the House of Prayer, Hamburg Altona.

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